Shall I let you into a little secret?
There are no more secrets these days.
Hidden addresses to charming finds from little black books are all rendered obsolete at super speed on social media.
We are 600 sq km cross-stitched with mass rapid transport, identikit shopping malls and centralised housing estates, with retreats of hotels and golf courses and "kopitiams". While I do know an eating place that serves "lohei" year round, there is nothing you can keep private from anyone with a charged mobile phone.
And because we are small, sharp, swift, we access "secret addresses" in a wink.
Which is why, now that Singapore has announced its first two-way air travel bubble with Hong Kong, I am looking forward to visiting Hong Kong soon.
Eating and shopping are two vital tick boxes for any visitor's itinerary.
In my other life spent managing tours, herding Singaporeans abroad, I quickly learned that castles and cathedrals may be interesting, but at the top of many Singaporeans’ checklist is still the question of when and where they're going to eat and shop.
What’s more, the hills, valleys, peaks and mid-levels of this territory make for a sensory trip. Skyscrapers to the north, trams and ferries to the south, street and night markets all around, life spitting from every quarter, with 7.5 million cramped mostly in New Territories and Kowloon.
I do not know another truly 24/7 city where people shop at all hours — my favourite buy is the abalone instant noodle — then eat, only to shop again, and stop for supper, for energy to shop some more. All the while, they are emphasising points with chopsticks, and debating to the sound of mahjong tiles, at the top of their voices.
You can sell and buy and eat anything and everything in Hong Kong at any time, and not worry about transport home. I checked — almost 6,000 buses plying 700 routes. How I miss the buzz and energy of a city that never sleeps.
While I ready my suitcase in anticipation of the reopening of borders, why not enjoy a slice of Hong Kong in Singapore? At the crossroads where Orchard meets Scotts is a selection of the tastes and treasures of Hong Kong — the Singapore outlets of famed Hong Kong eateries.
Social Place Singapore: Tradition with a twist
Yes, the bird featured in the brand name is a pigeon. But Social Place Singapore serves quail instead. No argument there, for the little bird makes a more delicate mouthful.
The split second you step into this restaurant, you know you're in for a good time. It's a sprawl of a place with tables of every size, in a corner here, right centre there, away from the others, or facing the lively animated kitchen.
It is almost like arriving at a destination for contemporary Chinese cuisine. There is thought behind the cleverly curated menu of dim sum and main courses. And an extensive one at that.
Signature dishes range from Wagyu char siu and Flamin-ple to Chef's recommendations of the Yin Yang har gow, and starters include iced okra and marinated duck tongue. There's also a crispy fried garlic selection, beetroot fried rice, chicken feet in abalone sauce, baby cabbage in soya milk — all with their special charm. Be sure to have a taste of desserts that are sure-fire delights like Small Pig Pudding and Mahjong Jelly. For drinks: Hong Kong craft beers, house plum wine, and other beverages.
Social Place Singapore
Forum The Shopping Mall
583 Orchard Rd, #01-22
Operating hours: 11.30am – 2.30pm and 6pm – 9.30pm (Sunday to Thursday) / 6pm - 9.30pm (Friday and Saturday)
Mui Kee Congee: Heritage in every bowl
From a corner stall in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district some 40 years ago, three generations of the founder Mak Mui have been ladling up silky smooth congee, though from different premises today.
Mui Kee Congee in Scotts Road is very much like the Fragrant Harbour's hole-in-the-wall eateries. Small and packed, with a queue out front, all hungry for the cooking techniques that make this Cantonese porridge go down a treat, while it warms you up.
As one of Mak Mui's grandsons puts it: "Every bowl's flavour is rich in our legacy." Choose from sliced parrot fish belly, homemade pork meatballs, pigs innards, sliced beef.
There's comfort food for you.
Weekend breakfast sets start from $5, 8am to 10am.
Mui Kee Congee
1 Scotts Road, #01-12
Operating hours: 11.30am – 3pm and 5.30pm – 9.30pm (Monday to Friday) / 8am – 9.30pm (Saturday and Sunday)
Kam's Roast: Household name and Michelin Star
Outside of Hong Kong, Kam's Roast in Pacific Plaza on Scotts Road is a first, for the household name renowned for its roast meats.
Its fame can be traced back to legendary Yung Kee (1942), internationally acclaimed for its roast goose and century egg (even its accompanying sliced ginger is special).
Hardy Kam is the visionary grandson who has taken it places: Kam's Roast has two outlets in Singapore, the other being in Jewel Changi Airport Mall.
In less than half a year, the Singapore branch bagged a Michelin Star.
To describe its dishes as mouth-watering is no exaggeration. I mean, Iberico char siu, Iberico spare ribs, shrimp roe noodles, lean lap cheong, marinated cucumber, and the star of the menu, the roast duck. This is the place where you go to bond over good food.
9 Scotts Road, #01-04/05/06/07
Operating hours: 11am – 10pm (Monday to Friday), 10.30am – 10pm (Saturday, Sunday and public holidays)
Jewel Changi Airport Mall
78 Airport Blvd, #02-210
Operating hours: 11am – 10pm (Sunday to Thursday), 10am – 10pm (Friday, Saturday and eve of public holidays)
Joy Luck Teahouse: Unforgettable classics
When you line up — and there is always a queue — before Joy Luck Teahouse in the Ion Orchard basement, you are getting three for the price of one.
This famous teahouse brings together the winning sweet and savoury items from three of Hong Kong's iconic brands.
Bite into the culinary treasures served, and you'll be transported to Hoover Cake Shop, Kam Kee Café and Tak Hing Fishball Company, which have been feeding Hong Kongers for decades.
For that special satisfaction, order up the egg tart (Hoover), the pineapple bun (Kam Kee) and the curry fishball (Tak Hing).
And of course you cannot leave without HK Milk Tea, hot, cold, or with collagen. If that doesn't put a spring in your step, HK Bubble Milk Tea then, with or without collagen.
An egg tart is an egg tart, you say? No sir, Joy Luck Teahouse egg tarts come in cookie skin or pastry skin, which makes all the difference. The pineapple buns are plain, with butter, with kaya, or with luncheon meat.
Joy Luck Teahouse
2 Orchard Turn, #B4-61
Operating hours: 9am – 10pm (Monday to Sunday)
200 Victoria Street, #B1-K25
Operating hours: 9am – 10pm (Monday to Sunday)
Jenny Bakery: Melting moments
From Tsim Sha Tsui to Tangs Orchard might be a bit of a long journey, but nothing comes between Hong Kong's Jenny Bakery and her legion of fans — ones who can't get enough of the buttery goodness of melt-in-your-mouth cookies presented in the prettiest of containers.
Stepping into the store, you have the impression of having arrived in Teddy Toytown, as each next biscuit tin is more colourful and collectible than the last. And it's a bonus, at first bite, to discover the contents taste even greater.
The base may be butter cookie but its many varieties will tickle your taste buds. Think mixed nuts, shortbread, raisin oat, coffee, best-selling walnut and date candy, moreish almond flakes, nougat and macadamia and cranberry.
The bakes are from Hong Kong, and Jenny Bakery does a brisk trade in cookie gifts for students and teachers, and even Nurses Day and Parents' Day. They even created Circuit Breaker and Solidarity bundles. Jenny Bakery is also introducing some new tin designs, and new flavour Chocolate Flower will be available in Singapore from this month onwards.
Hang Heung: A century of craftsmanship
Its name, "Heung", evokes the perfumery of its pastries.
Hang Heung is a century-old premium confectioner, founded in Hong Kong in 1920. Combining tradition with authenticity, its award-winning egg rolls and must-buy "wife cakes" and classic mini walnut shortbread fly off the shelves, judging by the queue in the Ion Orchard basement.
The recipes behind Hang Heung's comforting snacks have remained unchanged in decades, delighting each new generation of fans with over 100 different delicacies.
Hang Heung was awarded the Hong Kong Top Brand Ten Year Achievement Award in 2019.
2 Orchard Turn, #B4-33
Operating hours: 11am – 9pm (Monday to Sunday)